Why you shouldn’t sign the Caylee’s Law petition

The outrage at the Anthony acquittal has gone to the Internet (though, I suppose, it’s been there for a very, very long time). A change.org petition now exists, calling on Obama and Congress to pass a law to “make it a felony for parents to fail to notify police within 24 hours of a child’s disappearance or within an hour of a child’s death.”

This law, as being proposed, is a Very Bad Idea.

This petition is the product of public outrage. Thousands of people wouldn’t be signing the petition each hour if this hadn’t been such a high profile case, if they weren’t angry. And for starters, just to get this out of the way, I don’t understand either the fascination with this case or the insane degree of outrage. Why this case, I wonder, and not others? (Though, again to admit, I have some theories.) Why are we so free with judgment when we don’t know all the facts? Why are we so set, as a collective, on vengeance?

To be clear: This law would not have prevented Caylee’s death. It’s about revenge, it’s about being able to punish a woman for something because people don’t feel like her punishment is enough for her crime. And, to the public collective, that crime right now seems to be mainly being a bad mother. We can’t prove murder, so now people want to take another course, find another way to punish. Not Casey, but the next mother to neglect a child.

Except, while the law intends to protect children, that’s not actually what it would mainly do. Yes, it would hasten the return of some children. But at the expense of what? Has Crowder (or any of the others who have attached their name to the petition) thought about the consequences of this idea becoming law? Because here’s what I think will happen: More innocents will be harmed than actual good will be done. What about parents who call to report a missing child and are told to wait a bit because their child has a history of running away, or fits the profile for a delinquent? What about parents who assume their child ran away (or know) and assume the child will be back soon, as he or she has done before? What about the parents of a child with SID who don’t check on their child until two hours later than usual because they’re so pleased to see their child sleeping? Or, to simplify that even more, what about the same child, that the parents check on as usual, but the child died four or five hours previously? What about the parent of a suicide victim? What about the parent who just wants some time to grieve?

Some states have started to pass laws that carry heavy sentences for non-authorized abortions and require women to report all fetal deaths. But instead of getting people who go through the unsafe procedure of a self-induced or back alley abortion, women are being prosecuted for miscarriages and their grief is compounded.

What this law really does is set legal standards for good parenting. It might make some of us nauseous, but being happy after the death of a child is not a crime. There is no right way to act, no set time to grieve. But this is what we want to punish this woman for, this is what made so many people so upset, so convinced of Casey’s guilt. And, I think, they understand that they can’t legislate a required mourning period, so this is what they do instead, not bothering to think about the consequences. Anger has gotten in the way.

Wish that things could have been better for the child who is dead—all the children who are dead or missing or abused—but don’t point so many fingers at the woman who the law has been unable to prove as anyone other than a liar. I really don’t understand why people waste so much time on judgment. Judgment accomplishes nothing here. Anger won’t change what has happened. Instead, maybe we should spend more time on things that might make a difference in the lives of the children—in good situations and bad—rather than focusing so much on punishment. If you can’t think of any ways to do this on your own, a quick trip online or through your phone book will probably reveal organizations that are already doing just that, ones that could use your help.

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